Stress Getting the Best of You? Just Breathe.

Breathing-Medium-1080x675When first introduced to breathing as a relaxation technique, we wonder how something so simple can work.  My favorite story about “breathing” was finding my 10 year-old daughter playing the deep breathing/relaxation CD I’d made to a friend who was spending the night  and having trouble sleeping.  She said, “Just listen–you’ll feel better.”  Fifteen minutes later, they were both asleep.

Deep breathing works so well because we spend so much time physically  and emotionally stressed.  Psychologist Alice Domar states that the average US adult experiences the fight or flight response 50 times daily.  While adaptive for cave-dwelling ancestors running from saber-toothed tigers, the flood of stress chemicals through our bodies makes us edgy, irritable, and more vulnerable to physical and emotional health problems.  Likewise, it results in short, shallow breathing which fuels rather than diminishes the stress response.

The busier we are, the truer this is, especially for moms with small children who already feel physically and emotionally depleted.  The more rundown we are, the more likely the fight-flight response is to trigger.  Research has shown that five minutes of deep breathing several times a day leads to lower stress hormones by day’s end.  Why wait?  If we can delay bedtime to pick up the house, certainly we can take 5 minutes, 3 times a day, to improve our physical and emotional well-being.  Although it may feel strange at first to be still and breathe deeply, it feels good.

This week’s mantra: “I always have my breath to destress.”

Click here for my “Simply Breathe” YouTube exercise

Article from Well & Good on “4 Yoga Poses and Breathing Exercises that can help you get better ZZZ’s”

Persephone’s Journey: How Everything We Touch Changes

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With the arrival of spring, I am always reminded of Persephone’s story and the lessons to be learned from the daughter of Demeter, mother earth, and her journey.

I was introduced to Persephone’s story a few years ago at a women’s retreat.  In Roman mythology, Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, Mother Earth, who leaves “the world above” to become Queen of the Underworld. Although some versions say she was abducted by Hades and taken against her will, I prefer to believe that she left because she had outgrown living as a child in her mother’s garden and wanted to fulfill her unique destiny.

While she is still in the Underworld, she brings healing and hope to the spirits of the dead. Wherever she walks, “a line of bright daffodils sprout in her wake. By her simple presence and passing, she brings color and life” to the darkness below. However, she might not have noticed these changes at all if Hades had not asked her to turn her head and notice the changes she’s brought to a path that for her was “already in the past.”

So, here are some questions for you to consider this week. “What flowers, what color, what brightness have you left in your wake? Often without noticing it? Can you take a moment to turn, to notice? Can you take in the power, and responsibility, of this reality-that you too change everything you touch?

When you look over your shoulder, what do you see? And how does that feel? What might this noticing change?”

Enjoy your week. Namaste.

Note: Quotes are taken from 2010 Mystery School Workbook, Diana’s Grove

Start Loving Yourself By Not Judging Yourself

Jack Kornfield, psychologist and founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, tells a story about a group of western meditation teachers who went to visit the Dali Lama. During a discussion about self-compassion, the teachers related how critical and self-rejecting they felt. In fact, several actually used the word self-hatred which the Dali Lama had never heard. After he finally understood what they meant, he replied ” But, no. This is wrong. The way to relate to oneself is with self-compassion and love.” As Buddha said, “You as much as anyone else in the universe are deserving of your love.”

At livingselfcare, this is one of the practices Stacey and I mention often because many of us relate to ourselves with judgement, self-criticism and even self-loathing. A few weeks ago, I was teaching an intro to mindfulness when a new student commented about how during our breath awareness exercise, she kept judging herself and focusing on how she was messing up. Another student, who’s been practicing mindfulness for a while, spoke up and said, “I used to do that all the time when I started. Lately though, it’s gotten better and I can quiet those thoughts more. I try to be kind and patient towards myself like I am with my children and friends. It’s still an effort but that’s okay.”

This week, each time you look in a mirror smile, and remind yourself how precious you are. Remember, each of you is a unique expression of the universe and that’s something special!

Namaste

Self-Care: Make It #1 on Your “To Do” List

Do you treat your body as if it is sacred? Do you have a regular exercise and fitness regimen? Are you eating healthy meals? When is the last time you went to a spa to pamper yourself?

Your body is your temple. Think about it. It is the only place ‘your self’ has to live in. Life’s responsibilities are countless for many of us. And in trying to juggle those responsibilities we neglect to take care of ourselves–our temple. We might think about our physical health but that is often where it begins and ends.

Most of my adult life has been weighted with high stress careers, once in the military, and now in corporate America. I rise before the aurora and retire long after sunset. Over the past few months my stress levels have been escalating, my body was feeling energy-drained, my skin was breaking out and my mental acuity was becoming dull. So I thought, “I can combat these negative forces and make improvements in my overall health if I just make taking care of myself number one on my ‘To Do’ list.” So I have taken steps to do precisely that and have seen steady progress. You, too, can make marked improvements in your health and fortify your body–your temple.

Make Self-Care #1

Self-care is an integral part of stress management. Our bodies are conditioned to respond negatively to unhealthy forces bombarding it. Granted, it tries to warn us, but often we do not listen. Bottom line is you can dial-it-back and condition yourself to focus on a healthy diet, exercise and relaxation. Increasing your relaxation response can prevent chronic stress from having a negative effect on your body and overall health.

Get started with these five basic tips:

  1. Make exercise a morning priority before your day gets started.
  2. Drink plenty of water (it flushes impurities from the body).
  3. Get a massage (it is known to promote relaxation and well-being).
  4. Go cold turkey on doing things that don’t fuel you.
  5. Take a break from your agent of stress (go on vacation).

Don’t wait for the body to warn you. Start today and put self-care higher on your own ‘To Do’ list.

SavionToday’s guest blogger is Dr. Sydney Savion. Dr. Savion is an applied behavioral scientist, member of the American Psychological Association and scholar-practitioner in the field of life transition for more than a decade. She views life transition as a gradual psychological progression of questioning self, others, the situation, seeking a new direction, and a quest to start to anew. It is a natural part of living that is triggered by an event that has a momentous impact upon and changes a person‘s life ecosystem in a manner that demands a person to cope and adjust. For example, this event could be a loss of a loved one, a marriage, your mental health, or even livelihood. She is the author of the Living a Blissful Life blog on HealthyPlace.com.

 

10 Things a Pregnant Woman Deserves

I stumbled across this article from The Huffington Post and was thrilled to see a husband writing about how to support his wife during her pregnancy! I hope you enjoy this, too.

My wife, Mel, is seven months pregnant with our third child. We’ve been married for almost ten years. Her last two pregnancies were eye-opening for me. Being pregnant is hard on a woman both physically and mentally. It’s something I can’t experience. I can only observe. As a husband, I often feel helpless. Like I’m just some cheerleader on the sidelines, hoping everything turns out OK. I often wish there were some way I could help her more than I do. Some way I can be more supportive. I mean, I can’t carry the baby for her, but there are things I can do to make her experience a little easier.

Below is a list of a few things that I have been doing — or plan to start doing — to help Mel’s pregnancy go easier. However, I’d love to see ideas from readers on how husbands have made pregnancy easier for their wives.

1. Tell her she’s beautiful.
While pregnant, Mel often describes herself as: Fat, bloated, and spotted (near the end of her pregnancy she always develops little red splotches on her face and neck). Obviously she doesn’t feel beautiful while pregnant, even though I still think that she is. She needs constant reassurance. So when she is pregnant, I often make it a point to tell her how beautiful she is (in person and text message).

2. Excitement.
I know that some men, myself included, see a pregnant woman like a ticking time bomb. I mean, I’m excited to have a baby, but the first year of a child’s life can be hell, with all the sleepless nights, spit-up and dirty diapers. This is not to mention the cost of a new baby. But at the same time, it’s very exciting for a woman, and being negative can really depress your wife. I think it’s important to share in that excitement. I am good and bad at this one. I often exhale, loudly, when talking about things we need to buy for the baby. But I also crouch down, talk to the baby, and then kiss Mel’s tummy. I also enjoy feeling the baby kick. I think this really helps her realize that I am excited too.

3. Judgment (lack thereof).
Let’s face it, women act differently while pregnant. Sometimes I joke that the woman I married is not the woman who has been pregnant with my children. The woman I married would never eat an entire loaf of French bread. She also wouldn’t wear bright red compression tights that make her look like Doctor Eggman from Sonic the Hedgehog. Although we joke around, being pregnant has made Mel do and wear some strange things. It’s best just to let it happen without comment or judgment.

4. Flowers.
Mel loves flowers. They seem to make everything better (I don’t understand it, but I know it’s true). Last week I bought Mel some flowers. The cashier was a woman in her mid 30′s. She asked me what the occasion was. I said, “She’s pregnant. I just thought she could use them.” The casher smiled and agreed. If I could afford it, I’d buy Mel flowers every day that she’s pregnant.

5. Naps.
This is one that I’m not very good at. Being pregnant is exhausting. I can see it in Mel’s eyes. She also tells me about it, too. I often suggest that Mel take a nap, but with the craziness of having two small children, me working two jobs, and Mel in school, it’s difficult to get her to sit down. I think she feels selfish when taking a nap. And honestly, my knee-jerk reaction is to get a little jealous when she gets to take a nap. But I really need to think about the fact that she is growing another person and she needs her rest. I need to be more assertive about picking up her slack so she can feel comfortable dozing for an hour or two during the day.

6. Tell her to sit down.
Standing all day while having a baby wiggling around inside your body, throwing off your equilibrium, must be really difficult. I often see her rubbing her lower back, or her upper legs. I tell Mel to sit down, but just like with naps, I think she feels selfish sitting when there are things to be done. She holds a real sense of duty, which I love about her, but at the same time she needs a rest now and again.

7. A restful night.
Getting a good night’s rest can really change Mel’s disposition. We have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. Both are OK sleepers. But they still tend to get up in the night now and again. I will admit that I sometimes sleep through their cries, but for the most part I make it a point to get up in the night so Mel can sleep.

8. Time alone.
This is another one I need to work on. Being pregnant is emotionally draining. There is no doubt about it. The first time Mel was pregnant, she started crying because I asked her to water the Christmas tree. Sometimes I think she just needs a moment or two to simply be alone. I’ve been trying to make it a point to take both our kids out of the house for one reason or another so she can have some time to herself.

9. Company at the OB-GYN.
Often, Mel meets with her doctor while I am at work. We live in a small Oregon town, which means Mel has to drive almost an hour to meet with the doctor. Long story short, I have not been able to accompany Mel to the doctor as much as I’d like. But when I do go, I can tell she enjoys it. I think it makes her feel less alone in all this. Like I am really there to support her.

10. Ask about her needs.
I like to think that I know what’s best for my wife, but that really is a ridiculous assumption. I need to ask her this simple question more: What do you need right now?

Clint Edwards is the author of No Idea What I’m Doing: A Daddy Blog. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook.

Rules of the House

As a psychotherapist, I work with many adults who are still struggling with their childhood “programming.” These are the rules and beliefs that your family of origin used, often unconsciously. It is very easy for someone who grew up in an abusive household to think that abuse is “normal.” Then the cycle continues.

One very common “program” is the “Don’t Rock the Boat” rule. This means that no matter what, family members either act like a dysfunction isn’t there, or try to “sweep it under the rug.” For example, a family with an alcoholic mother may never talk about the subject and may even step over her and keep walking if she was passed out on the floor.

Another common “program” is the, “Everything is Fine” rule. With this belief in place, each member of the family puts on “masks” when they have to interact with other people. For example, the mother and father could be going through an ugly divorce, but the children are all smiles and act as if everything is great. The parents do the same thing when in public.

What these programs have in common is untruth. These families don’t want to express their pain and dysfunction, so they never give themselves a chance to work through their problems. When they get to my office, they can be holding a lot of anger towards their parents, children, siblings or other family members. These folks have a choice: anger or forgiveness. As Kambri Crews, author of Burn Down the Ground says, “Forgiving others and making peace with the cards you have been dealt is within all of us. Generally speaking, people aren’t purely evil or good. Life is much more complicated than that. ” Well said, Ms. Crews.

Listen to Your “Inner Wizard”: Quiet Your “Inner Lizard”

When we left last Monday, my “inner lizard” was screaming warnings of fear and dread, as only she can, about not attending a sweat lodge ritual (temazcal) with a Mayan shaman while on vacation. “Danger. Danger. Danger,” she shouted. “What if you have to leave and humiliate yourself. Worse yet, what if you pass out? Worse yet, what if you have a heart attack out in the middle of the jungle and never leave alive.” You get the picture.

However, I decided not to let Caty Catastrophe (as I fondly call her) deter me.  Instead, I told her that the danger was unproven, to have a snack, take a nap,  and I’d (my observing “wizard” self) look out for the two of us. Fortunately, with years of meditation and now mindfulness, she obliged and I left with 7 other brave companions to see what lie ahead.

As we entered the sweat lodge, I wondered if Caty might be right. Unbeknownst to me, we would be there for 45 minutes with the heat increasing four levels. While the shaman (surname Debbie) spoke calmly about the Mayan creation myth, I doused myself with the bowl of water being passed around, certain I wouldn’t make it to level 3.

Then the magic happened. I noticed myself settling down and listening attentively to what Debbie was said. I was still sweating profusely but it didn’t feel unbearable. At the start, she’d mentioned that if we got uncomfortable it would be cooler to sit or lie on the thatched mats which covered the floor. At level 3, I sat down and was chanting vigorously. By level four, I was lieing down in corpse position, a yoga pose, and actually felt cool.

Next we left the lodge to enter a ritual spring. It was invigorating and soothing. I felt triumphant. Free of my fears and worries. Discovering once again, that trusting my “inner wizard” (wiser/higher self) is definitely the way to go!

What are your “lizard” fears stopping you from? How can you take one small step this week to let your “wizard” self guide you instead?